Refugee Council of Australia
Tents in Manus Island regional processing centre

Offshore processing statistics

Costs

Offshore processing is extraordinarily expensive, regularly costing more than $1 billion a year.

The next graph shows the amounts spent on offshore processing, according to figures published in the Department’s annual Portfolio Budget Estimates. These totals amount to $12.1 billion since reopening the offshore processing centres.

Budget summaries

However, this is likely to be an underestimate because it counts only costs that are directly attributed to the offshore processing policy. For example, this would not include any foreign aid that was used as part of any resettlement deal (for example, the $40 million Cambodia received as part of its deal to resettle, in the end, a mere seven refugees).

The Australian Government has also provided the total costs paid under the agreements with PNG and Nauru for offshore processing since 2012, by financial year, until 31 January 2022.

Read 'At What Cost'?, an analysis of the costs of offshore processing in 2016

In contrast, the cost of processing people in Australia is comparatively small. This graph compares the costs of processing people in detention, in community detention and on a bridging visa.

This is also in contrast to Australia's declining contribution to UNHCR (with a low in 2021 of just $22.7 million, rising to $36.3 million in 2023), as illustrated below.

Line chart showing drop in Australia's contribution to UNHCR in 2021

 

Of course, many of the people who came just before those in offshore processing are now working lawfully in the community and paying taxes.

There have been extraordinary costs, such as the $87 million in visa fees paid to the Nauruan government (as at 30 September 2018) - because we pay Nauru a visa fee of $2,000 a month for each refugee and $1,000 a month for each person seeking asylum, and another $1,050 annually for each service provider.

We have also paid nearly half a million dollars a month for 'staff bedsit accommodation' in a hotel ($429,660 per month) with a total contract of $19.26 million for the leasing of that hotel. We have spent $38.5 million upgrading Nauru's hospital, and $23.1 million building Bomana immigration detention centre in PNG.

The list of contracts for our offshore processing regime is extensive. More than $5 million has been paid to one company providing air services to Nauru, and nearly $20 million to another company leasing accommodation in PNG.

Concerns about corruption prompted Papua New Guinea to open an inquiry into the management of the refugee support program in October 2023.

Yet the amount seen by refugees and people seeking asylum themselves is tiny. For example, single adults in Nauru Regional Processing Centre received $110 per fortnight in income support (in 2017).

Get the data and sources for offshore processing costs.

Thanks to our volunteers Joyce Chia, Jorja Kelly, Sophie Boyle, Liam Rasmussen, Johan Ariff, Amna Bakhtiar, Stephen Fodorocy, Michael Li and Andrew Lok.

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